Jakob Junis falters as frigid Royals fall 5-3 to Angels

Royals battle cold and snow in 5-3 Angels win

The Kansas City Royals and the Los Angeles Angels endured cold and blowing snow during Saturday's game that resulted in a 5-3 win by the Angels.
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The Kansas City Royals and the Los Angeles Angels endured cold and blowing snow during Saturday's game that resulted in a 5-3 win by the Angels.

Royals starting pitcher Jakob Junis snatched a baseball out of the air right after he watched a different one slice through the rain-thick sky at Kauffman Stadium on Saturday evening.

Angels center fielder Mike Trout had barely begun his trot around the bases, but there was no doubt about the ball Trout hammered to left field in the fifth inning. In a span of 5.5 seconds, it had vanquished the gusting wind, cleared the fence and dumped into the porch above the visitors' bullpen.

The 429-foot blast was Trout's sixth homer of the season, the 207th of his career.

And it was the final of three home runs relinquished by Junis on a miserably cold night in which Junis wobbled on the mound for the first time all month. Instead of ending the Royals’ losing streak, Junis allowed his first runs of the season and the Royals lost 5-3.

Mike Moustakas tried to spark a rally in the eighth, leading off with his third homer of the year. But the Royals didn't capitalize on the momentum. They lost a fifth straight game and fell to 3-10 to start the season.

Yet as the Royals secured their worst 13-game start since 2012, when they were also 3-10, panic has not set in.

"They continue to battle," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "As long as they continue to push and battle, they’re gonna get through it and they know it. It’s evident with the way they’re competing every single day, at least to my eyes."

In only 18 career starts, Junis had made a reputation for himself as the Royals’ stopper — the pitcher in their rotation who can buck a losing trend. The Royals were 8-2 when he started a game after a Royals loss, and he posted a 2.83 ERA in those games.

If the Royals needed to shake off a slump, Junis was their guy. He was that guy in his season debut in Detroit, when he battled cold rain through seven-plus scoreless innings and earned the victory in the Royals’ first win of the season. And he was that guy on Monday, when he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and gave the Royals their third — and most recent — victory.

Without agonizing over the pressure to perform after a Royals loss, Junis thrived. He amassed a 5-1 record and allowed 19 earned runs over 60 1/3 innings.

But after two perfect innings on Saturday, Junis crumpled.

A Luis Valbuena leadoff homer in the third inning snapped Junis’ season-opening scoreless-inning streak at 16. The Angels scored again when Justin Upton homered leading off the fourth.

By the time Yost removed Junis from the game in the fifth, Junis had walked Zack Cozart on four pitches and lost control of the sixth pitch of Trout's at-bat.

"I was trying to go away from Trout," said Junis, who was charged wiith four runs on seven hits. "And it snuck in on him. It was a good at-bat. He fouled off a lot of heaters. Fought off a lot of pitches. Tried to mix it up with the slider and missed my spot."

The Royals threatened Angels starting pitcher Garrett Richards’ lead in the bottom of the fifth. Richards struggled to find the zone in the inning — he threw three wild pitches and another that chopped high above the plate and was saved by catcher Rene Rivera — and the Royals drew two walks. Lucas Duda scored on one of the wild pitches.

Before the Royals could wreak further havoc on Richards, who had been working on a perfect game until he issued a leadoff walk to Duda, Alcides Escobar grounded into an inning-ending double play.

But the Angels' top-ranked offense, which entered Saturday with a major-league best .294 batting average and 98 runs, went cold as the steady rain at Kauffman Stadium turned into a light snow shower.

Royals relievers Brian Flynn and Burch Smith combined to hold the Angels to just one unearned run on two hits in 4 1/3 innings.

They made it possible for the offense to chip at the Angels' lead.

For Yost, the effort was enough of a silver lining.

"I still feel like this team is gonna get it together and we’re gonna get on a little bit of a run," Yost said.